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Community members weigh in on Grand River restoration project

Posted at 10:39 PM, Sep 29, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The efforts to restore the Grand River are inching closer to becoming reality, and community members got the chance to weigh in on the project Thursday night.

The city of Grand Rapids and a local group still need to clear a few hurdles as the two push to get the right permits to start work on the restoration.

Now, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is taking public comment on the Grand Rapids WhiteWater (GRWW) project that could change how the river runs.

“You know, the river acts as a divider between the east and the west, and this is an opportunity to really connect our city in a much more meaningful way,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalyn Bliss said.

Many people showed their support Thursday evening during a virtual community discussion.

Meanwhile, other people raised concerns about what the future of the Grand River looks like.

“The project needs to restart from day one. Being a Grand Rapids resident, I have seen it grow from a few million dollars to this thing to $45-50 million for this project,” Scott Atchison said.

GRWW and project partners estimate the project will cost $45 million. They claim to have nearly $50 million in funding secured.

Now, they’re waiting on final approval by state and federal officials that would allow crews to remove four dams between Bridge and Fulton streets.

“We can’t truly retore it back to its natural condition. We can certainly do as much as we can to improve the existing conditions of the river, make it better for fish, for wildlife or habitat, and for people to enjoy the river whether they want to get in it or just walk alongside it,” Matt Chapman, GRWW project manager, explained.

Chapman said public comments are crucial because they could stop the project before it even starts.

“If there’s something new that was learned about the river or about environmental conditions that wasn’t, that we weren’t aware of or wasn’t made, you now, available as part of the process, then they would have to reconsider that,” he added.

One concern that was brought up Thursday is that some fish use the river to spawn. One person brought up what it might mean for two juvenile sturgeon recently found in the water. Project leaders reassured community members that construction would not happen during spawning.

“The proposed project does have habitat conditions, which not only provide sturgeon spawning because of the large cobble and boulders and flow. Equally important, this young sturgeon needs to have large nursery areas so they can be protected and grow, so materials like boulders allow for large spaces. Those are locations where larval sturgeon stay, so they can be protected before they drift downstream,” explained Dr. Marty Holtgren, a fishery biologist.

As state and federal officials seek the public’s input, efforts continue to get crews in the river working. Chapman says the city is closer to picking out which company will head this project.

“We are working to negotiate a contract with a potential construction manager so that once those permits are issued, we can get everything lined up to actually begin the work in the river,” Chapman told FOX 17.

EGLE’s public comment ends on October 10.

Chapman says there’s still one more public comment period with the federal government.

He added that, if all goes well, then crews could start working in the Grand River by the summer of 2023.

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